Monday, 13 June 2016

Review The Rise And Fall Of Little Voice

The Rise And Fall Of Little Voice
by Jim Cartwright  

Soul Music 

Several years ago TLT and her tuneful little engine might have started this review with the "death of vinyl" and called The Rise and Fall Of Little Voice an "elegaic piece" along with a few other clichés. But now, with new turntables for sale on twenty first century shopping websites, she, or rather we, would have to eat their words along with their interval ice cream.  

Jim Cartwright's compelling 1992 riff on the relationship between divas and the recording industry is nevertheless a strange play. Part a showcase for the vocal talents of the actress (in this case Carly Thoms impressively belting out songs) playing the eponymous character Little Voice and part a kind of showbiz Carrie horrorfest. 

By 1992, it also strikes us, the female female impersonator (there is a reason for the double female)  was the domain of male impersonators and drag queens. Therefore this is a nag of a play which keeps on running because we don't think that's all it's about.

 If, like me, you've don't know the play before seeing it, here's a quick crib. 

Little Voice, also known as LV, (we never learn her full name in this inside out world) lives with her slatternly alcoholic Mum Mari (Charlotte Gorton turning caricature eventually into something infinitely more touching) in a Lancashire town.  

A fragile slip of a thing, LV spends her days listening to the long playing records she inherited from her late father Frank. At the same time, as if by osmosis, bursts of the songs in the divas' voices, come periodically from her thin frame. 

Her hidden talent is usually confined to her shabby bedroom with one of those, at that time, superseded turntables, with her Mum an unwilling listener along with a more neutral good natured neighbour Sadie (Mandy Dassa whose few monosyllables and huge saucer eyes almost make her a silent film stooge).

However, when her Mum brings home her latest boyfriend small-time variety agent Ray Say (Ken Christiansen in a nicely understated performance)  and LV's uncanny imitations of showstoppers stop their shagging, Ray believes he's discovered a star. 

Cartwright wrote the show as a tailor made showcase for the talents of Jane Horrocks star of the original production and the movie. Maybe that's what also gives the play its skinny stitched-together vinyl Frankenstein feel. 

Yet, while Little Voice channels all her frustrations into power ballads sung by a series of alter egos from Judy Garland through Edith Piaf, Billie Holiday, Shirley Bassey Maria Callas to Cilla and Lulu, her pronounced lack of ego is what makes her especially distinctive .

For all its gritty Northern setting, we are also faced, surely deliberately, with well-worn stereotypes, at least when the characters first appear. Yet these become something more human and humane when LV is on the cusp of stage success and others live through her. 

So, maybe it also becomes a reflection of the  power struggles, bluster and debt-fuelled rise to fame that can make showbiz monsters and meglomaniacs of anyone?

The play, well-paced by director Alistair Knights with the grungy living room set design and interesting costumes, particularly for Mari, by Libby Todd, posed more questions than answers for your intrepid theatregoing duo.

 It begins with the installation of a first telephone in the home, something which we would think belonged more to the 1970s than the 1990s.. Mum's name, Mari also has music hall connotations while the name Sadie sounds like a character out of American vaudeville. 

Meanwhile, the obsession of Billy (Glenn Adamson showing touching grace in a slighter role), the young telephone engineer, has a zeal for lighting and Blackpool illuminations more akin to an idealistic pre-revolutionary communist than a child of the late twentieth century.  

Even the initials LV  had a different connotation in 1992, especially after the breaking of salacious news stories about "Madame Cyn", brothel keeper Cynthia Payne 

Events seem to have come full circle for this time-travelling play. James Peake's portrayal of a club impressario can channel Peter Kay's retro working men's club shtick. Apart from the return of vinyl, we've also had the rise again of the talent show and, far more tragically, the demise of the outwardly brash but insecure Amy Winehouse through drink and drugs.  

It's almost as if recording, of sound and on film, is also circular, encouraging the talented to live up, or down, to tropes about previous goddesses of song. 

 In accurately trying to record the impetus behind the diva, Cartwright's play has shown it still has something to say about transatlantic showbusiness's cruelty towards, and conquest of, the human soul.  An amber/green light for a sensitive and humorous production of a difficult  but rewarding piece.

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